Watching the warm, authentic interplay among Peter, Mary Jane and Annie Parker has unquestionably been the highlight of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows miniseries. So it should come as no surprise that the first issue to separate Peter from his wife and child and keep them in different locations for the duration of the comic, would be the weakest entry in this otherwise excellent series from Dan Slott and Adam Kubert.
Despite being the penultimate issue of the series, Renew Your Vows #4 comes across very much as a middle chapter — it’s an exposition affair that spends more time setting up new plot points and ideas rather than focusing on resolving the arc. Unfortunately, by taking a step back and taking the foot off the gas a bit in terms of plot progression and high stakes drama, Slott and Kubert seemingly got away from what was working so well in the first three issues.
The issue is not short on drama per se — certainly the reader should hypothetically be apprehensive about the fact that Spider-Man has been captured by the same villain that systematically destroyed the Avengers in the first issue. Ditto for when the Sinister Six learn of the whereabouts of a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base where Mary Jane and Annie are being kept.
But the drama featured in Renew Your Vows #4 reads more as standard, paint-by-numbers superhero stuff (complete with a plucky kid saving the day!). And it ultimately pales in comparison to the darker, edgier, character-centric work from the first three issues, which saw Peter’s prior worldview get turned on its ear as a result of the very real and relateable ways that parenthood can change even the most resolute of individuals.
At the risk of sounding glib, at this stage of Renew Your Vows, I’m not interested in a standard Slott superhero story, especially since that’s decisively not been the hook of the series. Prior to this issue, Slott and Kubert were telling a real-life story disguised as a superhero comic. Surely, there were larger than life powers on display courtesy of Spider-Man, Venom, Regent, the Avengers, etc. But at the core, there’s been this story about the inherent fears and dangers that accompany parenthood. The fact that the Parkers are living in a dystopian world ruled by a “god” who killed the Avengers is practically irrelevant. Because, from any parent’s perspective, even in a world without Regent, Venom or Doctor Doom, there is a certain level of danger lurking behind every corner for a child. It’s a danger that even the most powerful of moms and dads — even someone as intelligent and competent as Spider-Man — cannot prepare for or anticipate. In this book’s first issue, all Peter needed was an excuse to turn his back on being Spider-Man forever, and he got that courtesy of Venom. But once he realized that he had to be a hero again, and deal with all of the additional danger that decision posed to his wife and child, that’s where this series went from good to great. Renew Your Vows #4 is missing all sense of that nuance.
Beyond the lack of family drama, Renew Your Vows #4 also falls back into some other concerning old habits found in a number of recent Slott stories, especially as it relates to Annie. Watching Annie unabashedly unleash her spider-powers for the first time and subsequently destroy the Sinister Six might have been a joy for ball-shot enthusiasts, but it also strained credulity and neutered (again with the ball-shots) the featured villains of the story. Once the carnage was finished, I half expected Annie to cosplay as Silk, since she was seemingly depicted as the “real” spider-hero of the Spider-Man universe over the past year (especially in “Spider-Verse”).
And of course, in a Slott Spider-Man comic these days, no sudden elevation of a supporting cast member is complete without an equally ineffective Peter to function as a punching bag. After spending the first three issues of Renew Your Vows being cerebral and decisive, Peter finds himself helplessly captured, sitting idly as the villain soliloquies about his grand ideas like a Bond-villain while the more competent heroes — in this instance, MJ, Annie and S.H.I.E.L.D. — save the day. This plot development just smacks of a total reversal of the flow and tone of the prior three issues where we witnessed a Spider-Man that was willing to go to unchartered lengths to save his family. Instead, it’s his family saving him, which is definitely a “twist,” but not a terribly good one, especially with the past years’ worth of Slott stories serving as precedent.
Additionally, Kubert’s art takes a step back in this issue. With Spider-Man vet Scott Hanna joining the rotating cast of inkers, Kubert’s pencils surprisingly come across as less defined and stiff. There’s very little creativity or dynamism to Spider-Man’s fight with Sinister Six. When the comic turns to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, some of the most interesting moments are lost in a cluttered page filled with a stoic gray color scheme. Annie’s definitive hit on Kraven took me multiple reads to get a sense of where she actually made contact because of how Kubert frames the panel.
The final page leaves the reader with enough suspense to at least pique some interest in how this story will conclude, but it cannot be stated enough how much luster was ultimately lost from Renew Your Vows based on this very sudden tonal shift both in the text and visually. There’s still an opportunity for this series to end on a satisfying note, but the odds of this being an all-time classic, a notion I was very much considering, seem slim given how Slott and Kubert have painted themselves into a corner with their choices in this issue.